There's quite a debate raging over how to handle this USC football team. The first thing to bear in mind is that, well, nobody's handled them since early 2003. Thirty-four straight wins pretty much speaks for itself. You can't luck yourself in to 34 straight wins, though you do need some breaks to go your way along the, uh, way.
We'll get in to the minutia of this matchup over the next month, with full breakdowns of Reggie Bush versus the Texas linebackers, Vince Young versus the USC secondary, Pete Carroll versus Mack Brown and all the rest. But let's just look at this from a big picture perspective today.
Texas is going to be the underdog in this game, and I don't care who you think is going to win, that's how it should be. The Trojans have proven themselves to be champions, they've won in every way imaginable and, in my opinion, they've faced slightly better competition than the `Horns.
So let's just make the Trojans the favorites for now, though all of us here at Burnt Orange Nation know damn well that if Texas brings its `A' game to the Rose Bowl, the Trojans are going to have their hands full. Today, though, let's give three reasons why each team will win this game.
Why USC Will Win
(1) Been there, done that
Throw out all the game planning, individual matchups, and superstars. USC's got this winning thing down pat. Including in monster bowl games. Last year, Oklahoma entered the game touted as one of the "all-time great teams." They left the Orange Bowl one of the "all-time overrated teams." In reality, they were neither as good as they were being hyped, nor as bad as they were perceived after the blowout. But nothing can change the fact that USC whipped them solidly. And last time we checked, Bob Stoops was a good coach. USC knows how to beat good teams and they've proven it time and again.
(2) Reggie Bush
Matt Leinart is a truly fantastic quarterback, but the Texas secondary is underrated. Let's hypothetically say that Texas shut down USC's running game; I'm not convinced that Leinart could do it all on his own to push USC to the win. The Trojans don't have that problem, though, because nobody stops Reggie Bush. Sure, there have been games when Bush hasn't been used as much, but he's peaking at a level that we haven't seen since... well, since Barry Sanders best games as a pro when he'd make everyone, including the cameras, miss him. They're somewhat different runners, but they've both got that magical elusiveness and burst of speed that the elites do. While I have my doubts as to whether Bush can be a professional running back, only the clinically insane believe that Bush is anything short of the best college running back in a long, long time. He might win the game all by himself if Texas isn't up to the challenge.
(3) Pete Carroll
Lost among all the superstars making plays for USC is the man behind the curtain, Pete Carroll. He's not a football genius in the way that you normally think of, like that fellow up in New England who keeps winning championships, but he's mastered the art of coaching college kids. And lest the Horns salivate too much over USC's seemingly porous secondary, let's not forget Pete Carroll's specialty: defense. You can throw out the regular season for this one, kids. USC will spend a month preparing to slow down Texas' offense. That's sort of like preparing to slow down Reggie Bush--it's a relative thing--but holding Texas under 30 points would be a major success. And likely enough to win. Do not underestimate Pete Carroll and the USC defense.
Why Texas Will Win
(1) Vince Young
Duh, right? It seems obvious, of course, but let's get into why he, specifically, could be the first Trojan killer since, what, the Carter administration? The thing about Young that can be so lethal is that Pete Carroll can have called the perfect defense, confused the hell out of Young, smothered his receivers, and then, just before the crunching sack... woosh! There he goes. It's Young's abilities to make plays--BIG plays--on broken plays that makes him so dangerous. You can have the perfect gameplan to stop the Horns, but there's only so much you can do if The Man is having one of his days. The best news for Texas is: it's in the biggest games that Young seems to find that elite level. Just ask Michigan.
(2) Been There, Done That
It's not the same as playing in the national title game, but it's undoubtedly going to be helpful for the Horns that Texas played in the Rose Bowl last year. There is definitely something to be said for familiarity, and while the hype and pomp will be through the roof for this one--well past last year's Rose Bowl hoopla--it's going to help Texas that they've been in this environment before. It's just less distraction, and that's a good thing. The Horns will have to deal with some new circumstances--those that accompany playing for the national title--but at the very least, they know the Rose Bowl routine. Do not underestimate how important that can be.
(3) Jamaal Charles
In my mind, the single most important player in the game, behind the obvious triumvirate of Heisman hopefuls. USC's run defense is much better than most people realize, but Jamaal Charles is much, much better than most people realize. Set aside his running abilities, which leave me drooling when he's on. He picks up blocks like a veteran and, most importantly, he's a deadly receiver. Make no mistake about it: Texas did not beat Ohio State until he came in the game. They will not beat USC if he plays like a freshman. If Charles is having a good game, Texas' chances of the upset increase exponentially.
We're not going to make any predictions yet. Why spoil the suspense and month of buildup and hype?!? This is just the beginning of the coverage here at Burnt Orange Nation. Stay tuned and get excited. It's been thirty-five years since Texas has been in this position. Enjoy it, Horns fans. Try to enjoy it.